R. B. (Reginald Bainbridge) Appleton.

The elements of Greek philosophy from Thales to Aristotle online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryR. B. (Reginald Bainbridge) AppletonThe elements of Greek philosophy from Thales to Aristotle → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook











First Published in 1922







AS its title implies, this book is intended as an intro-
duction to the study of Greek philosophy, whether
begun at the Universities or in our schools. That ele-
mentary philosophy makes an excellent school subject
has long been a conviction of mine ; the growing mind
of an intelligent boy seizes upon it as upon nothing
else ; it helps to formulate his ideas to a quite remark-
able extent, and forms an educational instrument the
neglect of which in England contrasts very unfavour-
ably with continental usage. If this neglect has been
due, as I believe that it has, to the lack of a suitable
book upon the subject, it is my modest hope that the
present work will help forward the improvement of
classical education in this country. At any rate it should
enable a boy to take a more intelligent interest in much
of his classical reading. Allusions to the early phil-
osophers are common in many of the authors usually
read in schools, but to most boys they are mere names.
This book will serve to give some significance to those
names, and should also make the reading of such dia-
logues of Plato as are likely to be read in school more
readily comprehended by the class. In past years



there has been in the teaching of classics a tendency to
give an undue emphasis to the purely linguistic side of
Latin and Greek, which is now being rectified by the
more humanistic attitude of those teachers who are
attributing a greater and greater importance to the
content of these languages. I shall be gratified if these
find my book of some service to them.

I hope also that undergraduates beginning the study
of Greek philosophy will find my simplified exposition
a real help towards the comprehension of more ad-
vanced works upon the subject. If they once grasp
the general principles of the movement of thought in-
volved, they will not have to worry their tutors for an
explanation of elementary points to the extent which I
myself did in my student-days. Eemembering this I
have attempted at the outset to give some idea, in
language as simple as I could command, of what phil-
osophy is. Then come two chapters dealing with the
Ionian physicists and the Pre-Socratics, in dealing
with whom my main desire has been simply to make
the philosophical development, which they represent,
clear enough to render Plato intelligible. At the same
time I have tried to bring out the general significance
of the philosophical positions, which they maintained, in
such a way that the student will not lose sight of main
principles amid a mass of details will not, as we say,
fail to see the wood for the trees. Moreover, as I
wanted to make these philosophers real to the reader,
and not a mere set of names upon which to hang this
or that doctrinal "tag," I have recorded the gist of


what we are told about them in the various classical
authors all of which has led to a somewhat more
lengthy treatment than one would at first imagine to be
necessary. After a chapter upon the Sophists, we come
to the main body of the book in the two chapters upon
Socrates and Plato. Here alone have I given trans-
lations from the ancient authors to any extent, because
here alone are we dealing with an author who has a
purely literary, as well as a philosophical, value. For
the same reason I have given very few passages from
Aristotle they will just serve to give some idea of his
style but confined myself to an analysis (a very close
one as regards the early books of the " Ethics ") of such
teaching of his as is both intelligible to young minds
and stimulating or helpful in the ordering of our

I must here make what acknowledgment I can of
my indebtedness to others. What I owe, especially in
reference to the Pre-Socratics, to Professor Burnet's two
books on " Early Greek Philosophy " and " Greek Phil-
osophy from Thales to Plato" will be obvious to all
who have read them. With regard to Plato I owe
almost everything to Professor J. A. Stewart of Oxford,
not only to his well-known books on " The Myths of
Plato," " The Platonic Doctrine of Ideas," and " Notes
on the Nicomachean Ethics/' but also to the inspiration
of his oral teaching. A similar acknowledgment is due,
especially with reference to Aristotle and to the ex-
planation of reality on page 107 to my former tutor, Mr.
H. W. Blunt of Christ Church. Both of these have


been so kind as to read through my manuscript, and I
have gained immensely from their valuable suggestions
and criticisms. My quotations from the fragments of
the Pre-Socratics are, of course, taken from Diels'
" Vorsocratiker." The Plato selections have been
translated by my former pupil, Mr. D. M. Simmonds,
now scholar of Christ Church, Oxford, but at the time
a member of the sixth form at the Perse School, Cam-
bridge, and I am pleased to have this opportunity of
thanking him for the ungrudging way in which he has
given me so much help. In particular I wish to thank
Mr. A. Watson Bain, educational editor to Messrs.
Methuen, and Principal H. J. W. Hetherington, Uni-
versity College, Exeter, the former for his most helpful
and sympathetic advice, without which it is not too
much to say that my book would never have been
published, and the latter for his patient and discerning
criticisms, without which the book would have been
even more imperfect than it now is.

I gratefully acknowledge the kindness of the delegates
of the Clarendon Press for permission to use the trans-
lation of Aristotle's " Metaphysics" by Mr. W. D. Koss
in the Oxford Translations of Aristotle for the quotations
in my last chapter. My thanks are also due to Messrs.
Allen & Unwin for their kind permission to reprint
William Cory's "Mimnermus in Church" from
"lonica," on page 156.

Although I have occasionally ventured to develop an
idea of my own, and have attempted to bring out the
significance of the different movements of Greek philo-


sophical speculations in a manner which I have not
seen so explicitly traced elsewhere, this publication does
not imply any great claim to originality. I have written
the book because I know of no other which treats the
subject in a fashion simple enough to be understood by
those whom I have had primarily in mind.

Finally, I should like to thank two of my friends,
Dr. W. H. D. Kouse and Mr. H. Caldwell Cook, for
their careful reading of the proofs.

E. B. A.

January^ 1922



INTRODUCTION (a) What Philosophy is 1

(6) The theological conception of the universe . 7


I. The Ionian Physicists and the materialistic conception of the

universe 11

(1) Thales of Miletus 13

(2) Anaximander 15

(3) Anaximenes 18

(4) Heraclitus of Ephesus 20

II. The earlier Pre-Socratica

(a) The breakdown of materialistic monism ... 23

(1) Pythagoras of Samos 25

(2) Xenophanes of Colophon .... 30

(b) Eleatic monists

(1) Parmenides of Elea 32

(2) Zeno 35

(c) The discrepancy between Eleaticism and phenomena

(1) Empedocles of Acragas 87

(2) Anaxagoras of Clazomense .... 39

(d) The necessity for a theory of knowledge

(1) Atomism 42

(2) Democritus as an ethical philosopher . . 44

III. The Sophists 45

(1) Protagoras of Abdera 46

(2) Gorgias of Leontini 48

(3) Thrasymachus of Chalcedon 50

(4) Euthydemus of Chios 51

(5) The philosophical significance of the Sophists . . 51




IV. Socrates and a theory of Conduct . . . . .54

V. Plato and the idealistic interpretation of the universe . . 69
General characteristics Psychology Politics Myths
Doctrine of Ideas.

VI. Aristotle and the teleological conception of the universe . . 113
Ethics Politics Psychology Logic and theory of
knowledge Metaphysics.

CONCLUSION The conception of God, and the immortality of soul 152

APPENDIX (a) Aristotle's criticism of Plato's Ideas . . .159
(6) List of technical terms with their philosophical

meanings ........ 163

INDEX (a) English 167

(6) Greek , .- . .169




TV /T OST of us have heard the expression Take it philosophi-
i-V JL catty, and we understand the adverb to mean some-
thing like with resignation. It comes to have this meaning
because to take a thing philosophically is to consider it as a
whole, not as an isolated phenomenon peculiar to ourselves,
but in comparison with the whole of our life and as some-
thing which might, and possibly does, happen to others as
well as to ourselves. When a man realizes that a great per-
sonal calamity is not something peculiar to himself but
common to the majority of his fellow-beings, in fact a strictly
necessary or inevitable incident in human life as such, or
when he succeeds in viewing it in relation to the whole of
his many-sided, wonderfully endowed life, it no longer fills
the whole of his mind and soul. In popular language we
say that he has become more resigned to it and is taking it
philosophically. Much of the philosophy of Epictetus l is
directed towards inculcating this attitude of mind. He tells

1 A lame Greek slave who gained considerable renown as a philosopher
during the latter half of the first century under the Roman Empire.
His pupil Arrian has preserved notes of his lectures for us.


la, thaV a. father should not say, upon the death
of his child, that he has lost it, but rather that it is given
back. By this he means to remind us that life is, as it were,
the gift of the gods, and that only the usufruct of it, as
lawyers would say, is really ours.

The We shall expect, then, to find that philosophy is concerned

o^Know- w ^k y i ewm g things in their context and with assigning a
ledge. right value to them in relation to the whole of that context.
Plato defined it as a speculation upon all time and all existence
Oewpia TTCUTOS JUH XP 1 ' 00 if&vtis & ouatas (" Republic," 486a).
It is concerned with our knowledge as a whole ; but before
we can define it more precisely we must briefly consider how
we come to have any knowledge at all. For man and beast
alike the senses are the avenues through which comes know-
ledge of the external world. Sight, hearing, touch, taste,
and smell are senses which we share with the lower animals.
But man alone can draw general and universal conclusions
from the data thus provided. Some animals dogs, for
example are endowed with a further faculty beyond the
sense-perception (aia0Y]<ris) which is common to the whole
animal kingdom. They remember that the whip smarts, and
are capable of visualizing the effects of turning the handle of
a door. Roughly speaking, we may say that, in the scale of
animal life,

ato-Orjo-isis common to man and beast, and that many
animals have no other faculty ;

4>afTaaia (visualization) and py^pT) (memory) are
faculties which enable the more intelligent animals to acquire
some experience of life (ipireipia) which extends beyond the
moment of sense-perception ;

T i x v *l ( ar ^ or science) and X o y o s (reason) are confined to
man alone, and enable him to acquire scientific knowledge.


Such knowledge is opposed to merely empirical knowledge, Empirical
and we must first get this distinction clear. In the technical |^ nt jfi c
language of Aristotle we may say that scientific knowledge Know-
(cmoriifiY]) is concerned not with particulars (TO, icaO' licaoTa)
nor even with generalities (rot us cm TO iroXu) but with uni-
versals (TCI icadoXou). You will understand the distinction
best by considering an example. I may know that, when my
electric light suddenly goes out, it may come on again if I
give the bulb a smart tap. Such knowledge is, for most of
us, purely empirical, i.e. gained as the result of previous
experience and not necessarily involving any clear compre-
hension of the reason. If I know that this reason is that a
smart tap will probably cause a re-union of a severed filament,
then my knowledge, however empirical it may originally have
been, is now no longer purely so ; and, if my tapping fails to
restore the light, I shall understand that the lacuna was too
wide to be bridged by such simple means. I must then call
in the aid of the electrician with his scientific knowledge.
My own empirical knowledge is, strictly speaking, concerned
with particulars ; it applies to my electric bulb, and when I
pass on the tapping suggestion to a friend I have no con-
fidence presuming that my knowledge is purely empirical
that it will work with his. The electrician's knowledge, on
the other hand, is scientific it doesn't matter to him whether
he is called in to see to my electric light, or to yours, or to any-
one else's and is concerned with all electric bulbs, i.e. not
with particulars but with universals (rb ica66Xou). It is
opposed to empirical knowledge in that it investigates the
universal law or reason that lies at the back of particular
phenomena. In other words, it involves an act of reflection
upon our sense-presentations, in virtue of which we are en-
abled to draw general conclusions jua icaOoXou uiroXifjij/is eic


iroXXo>i> TTJS ejjLTreipias tvvow&Tuv, as Aristotle says. It is this
that enables man to build up through a process of reasoning
(Xoyio-fxos) an art or science (Te'xnrj), the possession of which
distinguishes him from the lower animals.

The on The knowledge which this jxia Ka6dXou uirdXT]\|/is entails is
Suirt * n some sense a knowledge of laws or universals. The
scientist always wants to know the reason (atria) of things ;
the empirical person only knows a fact (TO on), but the
scientist asks why the fact is so; he tries to find out the
cause (TO Sum) of each particular phenomenon. Empirical
knowledge of the OTI apart from scientific knowledge of the
Sum may, in certain circumstances, be dangerous. For
example, an optician may prescribe wrong treatment of the
eyes upon his empirical knowledge of the fact (TO OTI) that
this or the other lens makes an improvement in the sight ;
whereas the oculist, who investigates the cause (TO Sum) of
the impaired vision, may tell us that such a lens, although
causing an immediate improvement in the sight, would in
the long run prove very detrimental to the eyes. Every one
will be able to think of further practical examples of the
superiority of the knowledge of the Sum over that of the
mere OTI.

Philo- Just as empirical knowledge is, strictly speaking, confined

{Scientific to *^ s or tna * phenomenon, so scientific knowledge is con-

Know- fined to its own department. It deals with its "universals"

only within this or that particular sphere electricity, mathe-

matics, or any of the applied sciences but does not, as such,
examine either the possibility or the validity of our know-
ledge of such " universals." It is, for example, quite beyond
the sphere of physics to examine either how man came to
formulate the "law of gravity" or what justification he has
for believing in it, I^* ? P n ft pther hand, is a science


which deals with the workings of the human mind, and
quite apart from this or that subject-matter formulates laws
for valid reasoning and examines the method by which con-
clusions may legitimately be drawn from given premises.
It is a branch of philosophy in a sense in which physics is not.
Metaphysics as the name implies comes after, and goes be-
yond, physics, because it takes the " universals " of physics, as
of all other departmental sciences, and examines what claim
they have to represent reality, or to be true. Philosophy
alone can answer Pilate's question of " What is Truth?" and
it is in this sense that philosophy has been called scientia
scientiarum, the science of sciences, because it is, as it were,
arbiter of the claims of specific sciences to represent truth.
Scientific knowledge cannot determine this ; it is confined to
its own sphere, and cannot turn round upon itself in order to
ask whence its knowledge comes. To do this is the chief
function of philosophy it has always to be asking " How
do you know?" and it must give some explanation of the
possibility of knowledge, and also some criterion by which to
judge the claims of that " knowledge" to represent reality. The
A simple analogy will make this clear. We all know how Q uestlon
old-fashioned people take the Bible for " gospel " (as we say), Validity,
and how the uncritical person is inclined to take everything
"in the paper" for truth the fact of its being "in the
paper " makes it true. Perhaps some day he will read an
account of something of which he has first-hand knowledge,
and will find such discrepancies between the newspaper's
account and what he himself knows to have been the facts
that henceforth his belief in the infallibility of " the paper "
will be rudely shaken. Gradually he will come to realize
that "the paper" is written by journalists of like passions
with himself, and will begin to look for some other criterion


of the truth of a statement beyond that of its mere appear-
ance "in the paper." Similarly we realize, as we grow up,
that a statement is not necessarily true because it is in the
Bible ; and it is the same with the whole of our knowledge.
We cannot take it upon authority, either from another person
or from a literary record. The examination to which we are
thus led, of the criterion of truth, is the main business of
philosophy, and is what is meant when it is said that philo-
sophy alone can raise the question of validity. Such an
examination will necessarily be a long and difficult one, and
will take us far afield into the most abstract speculation.
But certain common-sense rules may be laid down from the
very beginning. We want, for example, the whole of the
truth; " half-truths " are misleading enough in ordinary life,
and will not do at all in philosophical speculation. We must
consider every aspect of a thing and take every point of view
into account. A bigot can see only one side of a question ;
he is certain that he is right and simply cannot see the other
side, just as, in the old story of two knights coming upon a
shield (silver on one side, and gold on the other) suspended
from a pole, each knight was certain that the shield was of
the colour which he saw so plainly before his eyes, and took
his fellow for a liar and a knave, simply because he could
not see his " point of view." Philosophy, on the other hand,
will consider every point of view ; as Aristotle tells us, its
first concern is to consider at irpwrai dpx" *a! alriai, and he
defines these as four in number. They are :

The Four 4 ouaux or TO TI TJK etycu (formal cause).

"Causes." ^ flXtj or T0 faoKtiiLtvov (material cause).

TJ apxrj TTJS Ktktjo-ews (efficient cause). 1
TO ou I^CKO, (final cause).

1 It will be noticed that it is only in this third cause that the word is
used in its usual or popular sense. In the other three cases the word


Every subject may be considered under any or all of these
four causes, though some are more particularly concerned
with one than with another. Tanning, for example, is con-
cerned chiefly with leather, the material cause of a boot.
But we may also consider a boot from each of the three
remaining points of view. Its efficient cause is the labour
and skill of the cobbler ; its formal cause the general shape
and design which makes it more suitable as a covering for
the human foot than for a hand-bag ; while its final cause
is comfort in walking and the protection of the feet against
the harshness of the weather and of the ground. The dis-
tinction between these four causes is a most important one ;
and the confusion of two of them is a frequent source of
error. A certain type of scientific mind, for example, is
inclined to think that the explanation of a thing rests in
showing how it arose. But this, of course, gives only the
efficient cause, and it may well be that the whole significance
of the thing in question resides in its final cause. The reader
will be able to think of examples for himself.


Philosophy, as Aristotle said, begins in wonder. Man, as
soon as he begins to reflect upon the world in which he finds
himself, becomes conscious of the wonder of his environment,
and asks himself how it all came there and what it means.
Now this first attitude of reflection upon the external world
is, strange as it may seem, a theological one ; it peoples the
universe with a host of Oeoi external to man himself. Let us
see how this arises.

Primitive man is conscious of himself as a living animal,

cause is used in a special philosophical sense to denote what in ordinary,
everyday language might be called a point of view.


as a thinking person. His natural impulse, therefore, is to
ascribe such personality to different aspects of the universe
external to himself. And obviously these powers are much
greater, and more sublime, than he is himself, for they are
beyond his control and greatly transcend anything which
either he or his fellow-man can achieve. One needs to be as
mad as Salmoneus to attempt to imitate the thunder and
lightning of Zeus. Of course, a developed theogony such
as that of which Zeus is at the head does not suddenly
spring into being. We are speaking for the moment of a
stage of civilization prior to all this, and one of which our
knowledge must, to a certain extent, be conjectural ; but the
science of anthropology has during recent generations taught
us a great deal. Eoughly speaking, there are two means at
our disposal for studying the workings^ of the primitive
mind :

1. The early workings of the mind of a child.

2. The minds of savages existing to-day.

Animism. In both of these we find a tendency to ascribe life to what
a more fully developed experience proves to be inanimate.
Most little girls do so with their dolls, and imaginative
children have been known to address lengthy monologues
to the man-in-the-moon. So, to the savage, thunder and
lightning are the manifestations of the wrath of a god, and if
there is one unseen god in the universe as thunder and
lightning clearly prove then why not many ? In fact there
is no check upon the savage imagination, which quickly
makes almost everything animate. This is what^ anthro-
pologists call animism, because it is a belief according to
which there is life or soul (anima) in everything, whether tree,
river, or lake. The angry child who .kicks the chair which
hurt him is probably responding to the primitive instinct


which made his savage progenitor people the world with the
gods of his imagination. But, be this as it may, it is well
established that animism was a very definite stage in the
development of the human mind.

From this a systematic theology gradually arises : the sun, A Theo-
for example, is a god who drives his chariot daily across the gony *
heavens, the moon a goddess who reigns by night, and so
on. In time but not until the development of literature a
definite hierarchy is evolved, in which each god has not only
his definite order but also his own peculiar functions : this is
the god of healing, that the goddess of corn. These things
are settled by poets gradually bringing order into the con-
fused mass of oral tradition. Thus Herodotus tells us that
it was Homer and Hesiod, for example, who first systematized
the Olympian theology. "These are they," he says, "who
formulated a theogony for the Greeks, and ascribed their
names to the gods, and determined both their honours and
their crafts, and made clear their types" (Herodotus,
II. 53).

In thinking of their gods the Greeks naturally visualized Anthropo-
them as "supermen" in human form, which is what wej^ p
mean by saying that Greek religion was anthropomorphic.
Within this fully developed Olympian theology, as we may
term it, it is very interesting to find distinct survivals of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryR. B. (Reginald Bainbridge) AppletonThe elements of Greek philosophy from Thales to Aristotle → online text (page 1 of 15)